'World Player of the Year' - 5 Players to Watch: England vs All Blacks Summer Tests - Ruck

‘World Player of the Year’ – 5 Players to Watch: England vs All Blacks Summer Tests

England chalked off their first third of this Summer’s Test matches with a win, as they ran rampant on Japan to commence their tour campaign. Steve Borthwick got the upper hand on his former England mentor Eddie Jones, as his side handed the Brave Blossoms a 52-17 defeat in Tokyo.

England now turn their attention towards the Southern Hemisphere, with a two match series incoming against New Zealand next month. Borthwick and co will head down to the land of the All Blacks this week, ahead of Test matches in Dunedin (July 6th) and Auckland (July 13th).

Steve Borthwick, Head Coach of England during the England Captains Run at Twickenham Stadium, London on 9 February 2024 (Photo: George Beck/PPAUK)

England will have to acclimatise and get used to the far colder conditions, with temperatures expecting to peak at just nine degrees Celsius in Dunedin, compared to the 26 degree humidity they played through in Japan. Borthwick has been forced to make an altercation to his travelling squad, after Charlie Ewels was sent off for a dangerous ruck clear out against Japan. The Bath lock returns to Somerset, and Saracens second row Nick Isiekwe will jet out to Auckland to meet up with the squad tomorrow.

There is no denying the aura of the All Blacks, and there is now more mystique around the side as New Zealand have entered a new era. Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson has been appointed to the head coach role, with the break-dancing coach set to name his first match day 23 next week. Robertson won seven consecutive Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders (from 2017 to 2023) and All Blacks fans are eagerly anticipating the squad which he will select ahead of the opening Test with England.

Regardless of who is selected for the back-to-back battles between the black and white jerseys, there will be an assortment of top talents on display from both sides. With Sky Sports set to host all the action from the Highlanders’ Forsyth Barr Stadium and the All Blacks spiritual home of Eden Park, here are five players to look out for ahead of the upcoming Summer series.

1. Marcus Smith (England and Harlequins)

Marcus Smith of England during the Summer Nations Series Rugby match between Wales and England at Principality Stadium on August 5, 2023 in Cardiff, Wales. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

We begin our list with one of the most talked about players in the Northern Hemisphere, in Harlequins halfback Marcus Smith. A definitive talisman in the famous quartered shirt, Smith has also reminded Steve Borthwick as to why he should be starting in the 10 jersey for England despite fierce competition from his Northampton namesake Fin Smith.

Marcus Smith ran out a dynamic performance against Japan, as he led from the front for a true fly half clinic. A brace of assists saw the Harlequin utilise both his wide miss-passing off his ‘weaker’ side, and an inch perfect cross-field kick, to provide the ammunition for Immanuel Feyi-Waboso and Henry Slade’s tries. As well as claiming the assist for the Exeter duo’s scores, Smith wrapped up his performance in Tokyo with a try of his own, as he split the Cherry Blossom defence with an explosive acceleration of pace.

Last Kick Drop Goal celebrations from Marcus Smith of England to win the match during the Guinness Six Nations Match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on March 9th 2024. – PHOTO: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Also, there is an exciting option for Marcus Smith to play out of his regular halfback position and return to fullback for the fixtures against New Zealand. Should Fin Smith prove to be un-ignorable in the eyes of the England head coach, the Saints man could well slot in to the 10 shirt and Marcus could start in the 15 jersey, for the first time since the Rugby World Cup. With George Ford out of the mix for the battles with the All Blacks, expect a starring role for Marcus Smith across New Zealand’s North and South Islands.

2. Ben Earl (England and Saracens)

Ben Earl of England celebrates during the Six Nations Match between England and Wales at Twickenham, London on 10 February 2024 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

We stick with England for our second entry, as back-row battler Ben Earl has established himself as one of the first names on Steve Borthwick’s team sheet. A match-winner across both number eight and on the flank, Earl optimises what it means to take pride in the England shirt, with his expressive cheers heard after every turnover of possession for his side. Whilst some rugby fans view the celebrations as ‘over the top’, there is no denying the heart that Earl has for England and his drive to succeed in every appearence.

The Saracen has been relishing in his opportunities under Borthwick, having been rather overlooked by Eddie Jones when the Australian was at the helm of England. Jones would often prefer Billy Vunipola to that of Earl, with critics reaching a fever-pitch when Earl won the 2022 Premiership Player of the Year Award, and could barely get on the pitch for Jones’ side. Now, Earl’s statistics in an England shirt speaks for itself, as he topped the carry chart in the 2024 Guinness Six Nations with 73, a massive 15 better than second placed Cameron Winnett of Wales.

Ben Earl of England celebrates after winning during the Guinness Six Nations Match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on March 9th 2024. – PHOTO: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Earl as vocalised his ambitions to become the best player in the world, and genuinely believes in his ability to surpass the likes of Antoine Dupont and Ardie Savea to the crown. The back-row will go head-to-head with the All Blacks back-row over the two Tests (more on him shortly) in what is nothing short of an earth-shattering collision between two of the world’s best number eights.

Unstoppable at his very best, with a metres-making engine that never seems to falter, Earl has also teased a potential run out in the midfield, should Borthwick need to utilise the Swiss Army knife as a battering ram upon the All Black centres.